This is an excerpt from Sport Psychology Essentials by Dave J Collins & Andrew Cruickshank.
By David Shearer, PhD
When I was working with an international wheelchair basketball team years ago, one of the young contenders for the Paralympic squad approached me during lunch break. He started the conversation with a simple statement: “I’ve forgotten how to shoot.” When I asked what he meant, he recounted how he had arrived at camp at the beginning of the week, and in the first scrimmage had missed two early opportunities for what he considered an easy lay-up shot. Given the pressure for places on the team, his focus changed from one of individual improvement (task approach) to one in which he was obsessing over avoiding looking like a poor shooter in front of the selectors. Instead of getting in positions where he could make a cut into the D to score, he worked on distributing the ball. Then after each practice he stayed behind to try and “sort his lay-ups out.” He told me that instead of just taking the shot automatically, he was trying to ensure every component of the shot was just right. In other words, he was reinvesting in the rules he learned the skill by and was forgetting that it was already automated. After working through the pragmatics of holding a belief that he “must not” demonstrate inadequacy in front of the selectors, I asked him to choose one word that represented a successful shot to him; he chose height. I asked him to take some shots while repeating that word to himself and in a blink of an eye, he’d remembered how to shoot. Overall, this case highlights the role the current situation has on our evaluation of competence and how this can change our motivational focus. In this case, the athlete moved from a mostly intrinsic focus toward more external-focused motives (i.e., to satisfy the selectors) and behaviors consistent with a need to avoid failure.